By Adigun Olalekan
I have severally read about Adolf Hitler the erstwhile German Chancellor, who was elected in 1933 under the label of the National Socialist (Nazi) German Workers Party or the Nazi Party. I read the horrors this man single-handedly committed against the Jews during what is now known as the Holocaust. My hatred for Hitler as a result of his acts of terror made me avoid reading books written by any German. How can someone be so brutal? So inhuman? So callous?
Let us look at issues now from a different perspective. Let us assume you were a German during the World War II. You were employed as a Reichstag staff during the period of serious economic hardship that characterised the German economy at the time. Let us equally assume you were told in your job description that you are to carry out any task given to you from Munich with utmost alacrity and without question. On a particular day your duty involved executing some known Hitler opponents. My question to you is: will you?
I know your first instinct like mine will be to say NO to this question. I quite understand and appreciate your strong moral stance. You can say this boldly because you were not in the situation. Let us give a little example and see if you will still stand your ground.
In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev then Soviet Union leader delivered a speech titled “The Cult of the Individual and its Consequences” during the 20th Congress of the Communist Party castigating Joseph Stalin’s regime for its cruelty, recklessness, and meanness. This was a regime Khrushchev himself was an essential part of as the General Secretary of the party. In the middle of this historic speech a heckler interrupted him saying “Why couldn’t you stop Stalin?” As the hall went silent, Mr Khrushchev simply barked “Who said that?” He asked again and a deafening silence engulfed the hall. No one moved a muscle. After about two minutes, he then asked, “Do you see why we couldn’t stop Stalin?” And then he went on with the speech.
Now you will notice certain things. Mr Khrushchev was part of Stalin’s regime. No historian has come up with Khrushchev’s specific role in the brutalities that characterised the Stalinist era, at least to the best of my knowledge. One thing was sure: Khrushchev was not Stalin’s hit man, but how much could he have done to prevent the evils? Maybe Khrushchev didn’t participate in the brutalities (which is highly unlikely) but the fact that he could do nothing to prevent it made him part of it!
In 1971, an unusual experiment was conducted in Stanford University. Students in one group were told to act as prisoners while the other group were to act as prison guards. A jail setting was provided and the experiment was to last for two weeks. After six days into the experiment something strange happened – the boys chosen for their strong mental health and moral values had turned into sadistic, out-of-control guards and inflicted several pains on their victims (prisoners) who were ordinarily supposed to be students like them. Stranger was the fact that those that didn’t degenerate into such level of sadism did nothing to prevent those who did.
Let’s still stay on this Stamford prison experiment. We will discover that the guards were picked just to act as guards. The prison environment provided a good opportunity for the prison guards who ordinarily were seen as epitomes of strong moral standards in the University to manifest the seed unconsciously sown in them a long time ago. The seed is only waiting for the appropriate time to germinate. When you ask the boys (prison guards) if they will ever degenerate into such behaviour, like you and I they will swear NO. But they did even in a make-believe environment. This again is why I ask you: If Hitler asks you to kill, will you?